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Sexting – help for parents and kids

The news always seems to be bad these days, and it is easy to feel that there is a lot out there to be scared of. Being a parent has never seemed so scary. Many of us who are parents feel increasingly at sea in the fast-paced world of technology and social media in which our children and teenagers live. This ‘otherness’ and unfamiliarity can add to the sense of unease about the pressures they face as they grow up.

Luckily, the NSPCC is available to help. As part of their suite of resources that help parents and young people navigate growing up safely, they have just commenced a campaign to alert and inform about the effects of ‘sexting’ on young people. This is part of a wider project aiming to help people understand and deal with the prevalence and dangers of online pornography and the increasing exposure of children to sexualised images.

Their project is backed by research (by Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J.R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R. and Horvath, M.A.H. (2016), London: NSPCC) called ‘I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it’, the summary of which makes difficult reading. Overall, the research indicates,

  • Almost half of 11-16 year olds surveyed (47%) had never seen any pornography online.
  • At 11, the majority of children (72%) had not seen online pornography.
  • By 15, children were more likely (65%) than not to have seen online pornography.

However positively the NSPCC presents these statistics there is no escaping the fact that over a quarter of 11 year olds and two–thirds of children by the age of 15 have had exposure to online pornography.

This background informs the NSPCC’s focus on sexting. Sexting can be defined as when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos – loosely, pornographic material – of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages, with a device such as a smartphone, tablet or computer. The research on sending and receiving pornographic material indicates that:

  • Pornographic material had been received by a quarter (26%) of young people.
  • A minority of young people (4%) had generated naked or semi-naked images of themselves; some of them had shared the images further.
  • Repeated viewing of online pornography may have a desensitising effect.

The NSPCC suggests many reasons why children might become involved in sexting. Of course, some may unwittingly receive an image they didn’t ask for and didn’t want, and this may disturb them; it may create a false sense that such behaviour is in some way approved of or expected. Some may create images themselves because of pressure from others, to feel included, to boost their self-esteem, or as part of exploring new sexual feelings or their sexual identity. The research indicates one in seven young people admitted to taking a naked/semi-naked photo of themselves, and half went on to share it with someone else.

It’s really important also to understand the legal context of sexting. Creating and distributing images of a child is a criminal offence, even if the creator or distributor is a child him/herself. After occasions in the last couple of years where the police and prosecutors came down very heavily on some teenagers in these circumstances, there was a review that means now if a young person is found creating or sharing these kinds of images, depending on the circumstances, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn’t in the public interest. This means that it would be unlikely to appear on future records or checks, unless there was some other cause for concern.

The NSPCC site has plenty of information on how to address the issue of sexting with children as part of your general conversation with them about ‘growing up’ matters, and also what to do if your child has been affected – whether this is receiving an unwelcome image, or having shared a picture which has then gone out of their control. It provides brilliant resources for parents and adults with safeguarding responsibilities who want to find out more in general or find help with tackling specific issues. They also have an information service that handles specific queries. The message is clear: arming yourself with knowledge about the issue and potential effects puts you in the best position to help children with the challenges they may face in the information age.

The Childline website is excellent and aimed directly at young people, explaining and providing practical help in clear and non-judgmental language. Its sexting section is a really good resource to look at with your children as part of the conversation. Childline is also always there if they want to talk to someone and aren’t ready, for whatever reason, to approach an adult they know.

We are passionate believers in the NSPCC’s mantra that every childhood is worth fighting for, and that positive parenting – whether your family lives all together or in different places – is the cornerstone of happy childhoods. If you’ve got any questions about what you’ve read here, or any aspect of family law, do give us a call on 01223 443333 and make an appointment with Gail, Sue, Adam, Tricia or Simon.

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